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Celebrating Morsi’s ouster is easy, naive and shortsighted

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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Mohamed Morsi is out.  Egypt’s revolution is over.  The army has returned.  Did it ever leave?

With Morsi deposed, the halcyon days of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster are long past – even if the time frame is short. 

The Arab Spring has devolved into coup d’états and civil wars.  International intrigue is the name of the game.

For the most part, political leaders are front men.  The elite need someone to carry water for them.

Elites don’t go quietly into the night.  Though they change water carriers when necessary, they do so strategically.  Democracy has its limits in Egypt and everywhere else in the world.

Did anyone think that the Islamic Brotherhood would do anything other than what it had pledged to do for so many years?  Do those celebrating Morsi’s removal believe that the military has the interest of the nation solely at heart?

The excitement around Mubarak’s fall from power was too easy, naïve and shortsighted.  The celebration of Morsi’s ouster is likewise too easy, naïve and shortsighted.  

With regard to Israel, those who hoped for a hard line from a more authentic Egyptian political voice missed the American fault line in the sand.  Nor does Egypt have an appetite for getting tough on Israel. Israel is being integrated into the Middle East security zone for unreconstructed monarchs, oligarchs and dictators – exactly the zone where Egypt finds itself.

Without American aid and weapons, Egypt’s army would be unable to feed its voracious appetite for economic and political power.  The price for the maintenance of the army’s establishment is high, however.  Not only do they have to maintain Egypt’s societal order, the army has to maintain a foreign policy that respects the wishes of America and its allies in the region. 

Stepping out of bounds means penalties Egypt’s army is unwilling to absorb.  Without American aid and regional legitimacy, Egypt’s Generals might be the next ones thrown to the Egyptian curb.  They don’t want to be hanging out with Mubarak and Morsi. 

Yet if anyone thinks Egypt’s turmoil is solely an American invention, they should think again.  Egypt and the Middle East ruling classes have their own self-interest to protect.  Looking outside for the culprit simply delays the reckoning necessary to break the cycle that is devouring the future.

What lies ahead for Egypt?  A decade of finding its way if, indeed, a way can be found.

The Middle East is in turmoil.  Spring has past.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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22 Responses

  1. Citizen on July 4, 2013, 12:08 pm

    Yes, maybe in a decade Egypt will find its way, and maybe by that time America will have its own much deserved peasant’s revolt against its bipartisan ruling elite.

  2. Keith on July 4, 2013, 12:28 pm

    MARC ELLIS- “Elites don’t go quietly into the night. Though they change water carriers when necessary, they do so strategically. Democracy has its limits in Egypt and everywhere else in the world.”

    This could be your best post yet. You succinctly cut to the heart of the matter. Keep this up and you may soon be denigrated as a “Chomskyite.”

  3. Justpassingby on July 4, 2013, 12:33 pm

    This was a better article than the highly naive article posted yesterday.

    Egypt are now back in Saudi/US and thereof, Israel claws just like during Muhbarak.

    • Mayhem on July 4, 2013, 9:06 pm

      With typical knee-jerk reactivism MW has thrown together a few articles to address the forlorn issue of Egypt. Only a couple of days ago I posted in vain a rejoinder to some of the regular, on-going Israel bashing that MW is so renown for. I had tried to point out the blind hypocrisy of attitudes that only can see the problems of the Middle East as being caused by the US and Israel, nothwithstanding the mess that is everpresent in so many Arab countries across the ME today.
      Once again the usual suspects have sprung to their keyboards and knocked out shallow analyses of a situation that has unfolded so rapidly. When I had alluded to the lack of coverage about Egypt at MW a couple of days ago I had pointed out how there had not been a jot about Egypt on MW since the beginning of May ( and then only with minor reference to Egypt in the context of Camp David. The moderators were unwilling to publish my remarks then, as they will probably do again now, because my criticism was more than likely too close to the mark.
      Now we read the expected shallow diagnoses of the ‘coup’ in Egypt all viewed through that lens that can only see Egypt’s demise in terms of US and Israel’s interests. There is no understanding of Egypt’s situation from the grass roots level, no understanding of the social and economic mess to which the Muslim Brotherhood was taking the country. Articles like this one “Egypt deserves better” at warranted a hearing; trouble was that they didn’t mention the bogey men Israel and the US.
      This 400 word summation by Ellis is true to form and I don’t understand why Justpassingby says it is better than an article rushed to the MW readership yesterday. It provides nothing of depth – just Ellis’ personal musings which as per usual are of little value.

  4. seafoid on July 4, 2013, 12:38 pm

    “Spring has passed” I think.

    Egypt is a tragedy. But, no more than Syria, it needs a regional solution.
    And that means taking out Zionism and replacing it with some kind of decent trusting Judaism.

    Israel is in a very unstable neighbourhood. I’m sure gd will sort everything out and Jerusalem is forever.

    • Walid on July 5, 2013, 6:13 am

      “Spring has passed” I think.

      seafoid, other than in Bahrain where it was militarily extinguished as efficiently as in Budapest or Prague, it never really happened. Everywhere else it was something or other that romantics like to refer to as “spring”. You hardly ever hear Arabs calling whatever happened as the Arab spring. The destruction of Libya, Tunisia, Syria and so on can hardly be called a spring.

    • Bing Bong on July 5, 2013, 10:18 am

      “Egypt is a tragedy. But, no more than Syria, it needs a regional solution.
      And that means taking out Zionism and replacing it with some kind of decent trusting Judaism.”

      Syrian sectarian civil war is because of Zionism? No it isn’t.

    • Mayhem on July 7, 2013, 10:04 pm

      @seafoid, your nonsensical non-sequitor about Zionism just goes to show where you are at. Instead of dealing with the appalling Arab societies that are dotted across the ME with their endemic problems, you make Zionism responsible for all the world’s ills. Sick.

  5. anthonybellchambers on July 4, 2013, 12:47 pm

    Assad of Syria and Netanyahu of Israel, are both Middle Eastern politicians who will be sitting back and smiling contentedly as they watch Egypt’s first democratically elected president being ousted by a military coup.

    Morsi of Egypt was, and is, the head of a peaceful Islamic movement that stands in solidarity with the aspirations of the Palestinian people in Gaza still under economic siege from the Israeli state that has tried to illegally effect regime change in the enclave.

    Now that Netanyahu and Assad have what they wanted, it remains to be seen whether it will actually be to their political advantage or if, in fact, they should have been more careful in that for which they had wished. Time will tell.

    • piotr on July 4, 2013, 2:12 pm

      From the standpoint of “solidarity with the aspirations of the Palestinian people in Gaza”, the record of Morsi is mixed at best.

      However, it is hard to make a case that Morsi was a criminal, and what happened in a revolution in the worst sense: the very basis of law is turned upside down. A supreme court judge will preside over discarding the constitution, legalizing the illegal (like torching the property of a political party) and outlawing the legal (activity of that party, disseminating media friendly to that party, and simply being the elected President).

      This is not a huge problem if now for a number of years the government will be autocratic. But now somehow from the thin airs the new autocrats have to produce new electoral laws, perform the election, and as they are at it, improve the economy.

  6. seafoid on July 4, 2013, 3:35 pm

    Mohamed Morsi’s statement after being ousted by Egypt’s military – video

  7. just on July 4, 2013, 3:46 pm

    Thanks Marc– your perspective is valuable to me. A dear friend and I were speaking of this just yesterday, and much of what you have written is what we discussed.

  8. W.Jones on July 4, 2013, 5:43 pm

    Fine article, Marc.

  9. Sin Nombre on July 4, 2013, 11:22 pm

    I have no good idea of what Mr. Ellis is saying here, and certainly can’t see how he could urge us doing or not doing anything thereby, with it seeming to me to be that the good reason he’s confounded is what seems to me to be his constricted perspective of these sorts of things.

    Pretty clearly that is he seems to feel that “elites” determine everything, and, somewhat contradictorily, when they don’t the result will always be better . Somewhat Marxisant in nature then, which is not meant pejoratively, but is ironic.

    Ironic because nothing could be clearer than that the Marxist movements led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks and Mao and his friends were hardly elites or even minutely supported by same, and yet they managed to get in power, and the same goes for Hitler for that matter. Likewise and more to the point even Mubarek was clearly a representative of the elites, and yet of course he was overthrown rather easily.

    Moreover, one has to go no further than citing Lenin and the Bolsheviks and Mao to note the error in assuming that just because some elite regime falls to this or that populist one the results are invariably or even likely to be better than before. Indeed it may even be the exact opposite. (Perhaps in part at least because elites prefer stability, and stability has some substantial virtues of its own for the common man.)

    No wonder Mr. Ellis is adrift then here. His perspective of “what matters” or “what determines” here is just far too constricted. Lots of time in history—and especially so in modern history—the elites have taken it in the ass, and lots of times that has happened the biggest sufferers therefrom have been the common masses.

    Pretty clearly one of the big dynamics at work here in Egypt and indeed in the arab/moslem world generally is that it is going through the process of wrestling with modernity, which was and to a degree still is tough enough for our relatively secular Western societies, and is thus is going to be very very difficult for the most Islamic of countries.

    Further ironically however our national error in addessing this is somewhat akin to Mr. Ellis’ as well, which is that clearly our Administration is viewing the Egyptian situation the same way it is viewing the Syrian one which in turn is looking through a far too narrow perspective by simply asking which “side” or “group” of involved in the uprisings or etc. are best for Israel and which are not.

    The clear reality however is that nobody really understand the dynamics of all of what is going on in these countries, much less knows which are determinative. And what’s even more opaque is trying to foresee and compare what different results are going to obtain in our pathetic attempts to foresee the possible outcomes. Consequently, and most opaquely of all no one can say with any authority whatsoever how to get X result from taking Y action.

    I.e., who knows who is going to “win” and who is going to “lose” and for how long and what is going to be best for “the people” in the long run?

    To me at least the clear lesson from all of this is that the last thing we ought to be doing is putting our finger(s) into the mix other perhaps than the strictly and clearly humanitarian. That … our proper posture ought to be standing as far back as possible and simply extending our hope to the peoples caught up in all this for the least violence and loss of life possible, and sympathy for the troubles they are experiencing, period.

    And if you ask me further I’d say that just about the best way to end up with some regime or situation hostile to us is indeed for us to try to put our finger on the scale somewhere because no-one but no-one in the region believes that we do so other than to advance Israel’s interest, which is like poisoning anyone we are seen as supporting.

  10. mijj on July 4, 2013, 11:47 pm

    no matter what form of government emerges, the US will find a way to reconnect those institutional puppet strings. And then, later, Egypt will have another revolt.


  11. Taxi on July 5, 2013, 12:59 am

    “Without American aid and weapons, Egypt’s army would be unable to feed its voracious appetite for economic and political power.”

    You’re the “naive” one Marc Ellis. You don’t think other players would love to step in and send aid packages to Egypt if America dropped it’s aid to Egypt? You don’t think Russia, Saudi and Iran have already offered to step into America’s shoes in Egypt and provide aid?

    There is only one reason that American aid to Egypt will NEVER stop: israeli paranoia. Imagine israel’s freakydeekies if Iran was Egypt’s most generous patron.

    • Justpassingby on July 5, 2013, 4:57 am

      Uh you dont compare a superpower with Iran, Russia, Saudi? This coup have approval by Obama. Very bad.

    • Ellen on July 5, 2013, 4:58 am

      Well said, Taxi. The U S learned a bitter lesson when — in the 11th hour under Zionist pressure — it walked away from the promised development cooperation of the Aswan Dam . The Soviet Union stepped in.

      Israel and Egypt might be paid off to keep the peace, but Israel is deeply fearful that it’s sugar daddy could find new freinds in the ME.

    • yrn on July 5, 2013, 9:19 am

      “Imagine israel’s freakydeekies if Iran was Egypt’s most generous patron.”

      Amnesia problems Taxi- who totally aided Egypt in 1960-1980 including the six days war and 73 war.
      Egypt was 100% armed and aided by the USSR, how did it help them to be totally defeated both times.
      So with the USSR total supply, who is Iran, a dying economy to go into the game.
      be my guest bring in your “peaceful” allies taxi.

  12. Stephen Shenfield on July 5, 2013, 7:02 am

    At an earlier stage there was some kind of understanding between the generals and the Moslem Brotherhood leadership. They thought that together they would be able to marginalize the forces that want to “continue the revolution.” That calculation has proven mistaken. Perhaps there are also other reasons that we don’t yet know for the understanding breaking down. Still, something has happened! It isn’t all exactly the same as before! Cynicism is as out of place as naivety.

    Egypt is evidently a deeply divided society and the army seems to be the only force capable of holding it together and averting civil war, which has not yet happened but might. If they perform that function, is it really such a terrible thing?

    In general, let’s not claim a level of understanding that we don’t and can’t have, especially those of us who have not lived in Egypt or acquired any real expertise on the country.

  13. HarryLaw on July 5, 2013, 8:21 am

    The Egyptian situation is similar in many respects to the Algerian one in the early 1990’s, then, when the Islamist Salvation Front [FIS] looked like winning the elections after the first round of voting, the government the National Liberation Front [FLN] promptly cancelled the election, at this time the military effectively took control of the government and the President was forced from office.
    After the FIS was banned and thousands of its members arrested they began an armed campaign against the government and its supporters, resulting in whole neighborhoods being massacred, it is estimated that nearly 200,000 people lost their lives between 1991 and 2002.
    The fear then of the Algerian government was expressed by the US assistant Secretary of state Edward Djerjian thus “one man, one vote, one time”.

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